Former sailors reunite aboard Growler museum sub

Guy Michelizzi introduced himself as both "Mick" and "The Crazy Italian."

"We hit an isothermal layer and we took a six-degree down bubble and the main induction, 18-inch opening, they couldn't shut it," Mick, a retired U.S. Navy missile technician second class, said Thursday, "so we lost electricity, lost hydraulics."

While we struggled to follow exactly what was happening in Mick's telling of a now 50-something-year-old story from his time aboard the USSGrowler Grayback-class submarine, we understood enough to know it wasn't good.

"Water's pouring down," he said.

Mick recalled a big burly engine man cranking closed that induction manually, stopping the Pacific Ocean from filling the vessel.

"I thought it was all over," he said, "and then after that, I thought this crew could do anything."

Much of that crew reunited Thursday aboard the sub on which they served six decades ago.

"I didn't remember a lot of people and everybody is older," Peter Kuchara said.

"It seems like everybody recognized me because I had the most tattoos," Robert "Hymey" Hoffman said.

"We remember the days we were there on patrol," Mick said, "and stories we couldn't tell for 30 years are coming out now."

Those stories now make up a special exhibit at the Intrepid Museum on the West Side, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the commissioning of the Growler, which museum president Susan Marenoff-Zausner reminded us remains the only nuclear missile-launching submarine on display anywhere in the world.

"This is years of thought and planning that went into this," she said.

The diesel-powered Growler carried four Regulus cruise missiles, all carrying nuclear warheads, and ran 60-day patrol missions out of Pearl Harbor along the Russian coast during the Cold War as part of this country's strategy of nuclear deterrence.

"We had birthday parties, we had Christmas, we had New Year's," Kuchara said.

Kuchara, former quartermaster and navigator, donated the diary he kept while on board to the group of artifacts on display in this exhibit. On Thursday, he recalled how well he ate during Growler missions.

"I gained 40 pounds," he said.

The exhibit and its full versions of those snippets of oral histories opens to the public Friday.

"I couldn't believe all that's here," Mick said.